Nikki Sunstrum



Grand Valley State University - B.S. Political Science

Aquinas College - Master in Education

Five years ago, a position like Nikki Sunstrum's didn't exist. And Nikki's quick to point out that five years from now it might not be here or it might evolve into something different altogether.

As a social media specialist for the State of Michigan, it's Nikki's job to set the strategy, direction, look and feel and content strategies of the 137 active accounts under the State of Michigan umbrella. She works to create meaningful, dynamic content that exists in a unified form. And although it's no easy task — she manages social media for the entire state! — it's one that holds numerous rewards for Nikki and indisputable value for the citizens of Michigan.

Be innovative in the ways in which you approach and apply your education, training and surroundings.

What was the path you took from graduation to your current job?

My interest in politics and government was what originally led me to a job with the State of Michigan. In my spare time, I was coordinating events for non-profits and the local main street program and Leadership took notice. So I transitioned into a special projects role and social media began as one of those "projects."

There was an existing flow of conversation taking place by our constituents; conversation we weren't participating in. By translating teaching techniques into a facilitation forum, I began training departments and programs on how to use social platforms to disseminate its messaging where its audience already was gathered -- and for free. As social media gained momentum, a statewide board was formed and I was asked to serve as chair and primary liaison to departments and the Governor's Office staff.

You coordinate the social media of an entire state. What does that entail? What types of things do you do on a daily basis?

My role is to coordinate a unified presence on social media for the State of Michigan. Beginning with establishing and implementing an official policy, procedure, and look and feel for all of our 137 active accounts, I now work with agencies on ways to maximize their efforts, provide training and evaluate new platforms. Programs interested in exploring social media contact me for consultation and guidance on devising a strategy that ensures we provide additional value to our citizens.

Using analytics tools, I monitor accounts for inquiries and response and provide reports on traditional and social news coverage. I work to ensure key messaging is supported across all accounts, examine best practices and create methods for further collaboration.

I also serve as content and community manager for our statewide MIGov social media accounts, in addition to our state economic development agency and also a niche community, Pure Michigan Car Culture.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

Most often, I'm awake thinking about the challenge of balancing daily requests with innovative, creative ideas that could potentially establish us as a thought leader in social constituent relations.

What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?

Personality! I spend my days teaching ways to make people and programs more transparent on the Web; however, I often find myself censoring my own views and opinions. Personally, I treat each of my social accounts very differently. Facebook lists are my best friend and LinkedIn is where I talk business. But I don't promote what I do professionally on Twitter; it's the last solace for my sarcasm.

What is a lesson you learned in your job, and what did it teach you?

Crafting a message in 140 characters is an actual skill. Within that small parameter, you have to capture one's attention and entice them to promote your message. In lesson planning, it's called the "hook," and the same applies to social media.

In fact, the similarities don't end there: on a daily basis, you have to transform mundane facts into extraordinary stories, diversify materials to appeal to all learning styles and convert commonplace statistics into visually appealing images. So essentially, my job has taught me that my student loan is not completely in vain.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today?

It's been my personal experience that too often, we devalue all that we actually do and the impact it makes. Particularly in a developing industry like social media, because there are no existing parameters for success. Recognize your own importance and be proud of the work you do.

What are some of the rules you live by?

Participating in social media should provide an additional value to your audience. Start small; there's no reason to join Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram all at the same time. Or at all. Platforms have specific purposes and require specific types of content in order to thrive.

Nobody's an expert when it comes to social media. Just when you think you have it figured out, there's a redesign or a new function or platform. Keeping up on the social evolution is almost a full-time job in itself.

What qualities do you look for in fellow colleagues and team members?

Ideal colleagues have a sense of adventure and a sense of humor. Content tends to emulate its creator and the best content for social media is dynamic.

What advice do you have for women who want to get involved in a role like yours?

Carpe diem. My role didn't exist five years ago and may not five years from now. Be innovative in the ways in which you approach and apply your education, training and surroundings. If you find worth in something, make it the best something you can possibly do and prove its necessity to others.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Ideally, on my next big adventure. Following the technology, skills and industry where it takes me.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I'd like to add my thanks and appreciation for organizations like I Want Her Job. I'm truly honored to be featured.

-Interview by Katrina Ball